Backpacking or trailpacking?

Running through Southeast Asia

After seeing some of the events we signed up for on Facebook, a good friend asked us whether we are actually still backpacking or if we decided to do trailpacking. It’s true that a good part of the first month and a half of our trip has been dictated by two runs we signed up for, the 12km trail run in Kalaw, Myanmar, and the half marathon in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Luckily I had my beloved Garmin Forerunner 235 with me, which monitors my heart rate right from my wrist and tracks my progress and activity.

The Kalaw trail run

Both runs were awesome in their own right even though completely different. The Kalaw trail run was very hilly and technical and I ended up ankle-deep in the mud at times. Since it had rained the night before, some places were so muddy that running or even walking had become impossible and I lost a few seconds here and there trying to get my feet out of the mud. In any case, I came in 5th so I must say that I carry great memories of the run. At the end I ran as fast as I could in the hope to catch someone in front of me, but later I learned the number 4 had finished about 4 minutes earlier than me. In hindsight I must say that I found it slightly pricey for what was offered: there was water and Heineken beer at the finish line (at 9 in the morning) but no fruit or other food and breakfast at the hotel where the finish line was was horribly overpriced at 15,000 kyat or about 10 euro. Luckily we met a lovely Texan-Spanish couple before the race who gave us some sugar-free sports nutrition, which helped a lot and provided us with enough energy to survive until we were back in the hotel.

The Chiang Mai half marathon

Jonathan during the Chiang Mai half marathon
Me during the Chiang Mai half marathon

The Chiang Mai half marathon was completely different. The course was completely flat, making it easier to build up the race and keep a steady rhythm throughout. The organisation was quite smooth, everything started nicely on time and, since it is Thailand, at the finish line there was an abundance of free foods to refill the carbs and electrolytes, ranging from rice with omelette (or meat) to bananas, and dumplings to coconut water. I finished in 1.54.22, which was my best time on a half marathon so far and, especially considering I had a fever the night before and had slept only 4 hours (since I had to be there at 4 in the morning), I was quite pleased with the result.

Another big difference with Kalaw was that it was obvious that running and sports is actually way more developed in Thailand than in Myanmar. Most participants in Chiang Mai were Thai, whereas most participants in Kalaw were expats or travellers. But perhaps that is not so strange considering that 60-70% of the people in Myanmar live from farming and many earn less than 100 a month. I suppose that leaves little time for leisure.

Travelling from run to run

Travelling from run to run provides you with a totally different dynamics than travelling freely without any plan. I suppose that knowing that you have to be somewhere in a certain place at a certain time gives you a goal to work towards and mentally it can be nice to know: ok I know that on this date I’m gonna have to be in this place. At the same time, it does restrict you a bit and we did have to spend a little more money to fly from Mandalay to Chiang Mai on the evening before the run.

It’s hard to say what’s better. I suppose it is actually the most difficult to have the freedom of not having to go or be anywhere. But perhaps this is the best exercise that one can get: an exercise that makes you wonder what it is you actually want and where it is you want to go. I guess I’m still in the process of finding this out. But I do know the occasional run has got to be part of it.

Author: Jonathan

Foodblogger, translator, webmaster, Dante specialist, cook. Passionate about natural food, languages, cycling and travels.

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